Friday, January 25, 2013

Op/Ed: Evolving Bangsamoro Identity

Op/ED piece from Jun Mercado posted to GMA News (Jan 25): Evolving Bangsamoro Identity

In my graduate class at Notre Dame University, I assigned my students a research paper to ‘track’ the evolution of the Bangsamoro Identity. The work entails identifying the various social movements that contribute to the shaping of this evolving political construct - Bangsamoro.

To begin with, the new and evolving Bangsamoro identity has NO ‘connect’ to the word - Moro – used by the Spaniards and the Americans during the colonial times. Then there is the observation that the there are two versions: one word – Bangsamoro or two words – Bangsa Moro.

The first use of the word ‘Moro’ was in the Iberian Peninsula when the Muslim conquering warriors coming from North Africa crossed to the Gibraltar Straight and occupied the whole Iberian Peninsula for more than seven hundred years. These were the Berbers or the Moriscos coming mainly from the modern Morocco.

The Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula rule covered not only Spain but as far as Southern Italy (the island of Sicily) and the Pyrenees in Southern France. It was the ‘Western’ Umayyad Empire that continued until almost towards the end of the 15th century even after its collapse in Damascus.

The first time the word Moro was used on this side of the globe was during the famous Battle of Manila between the Spaniards and the Muslim Principality of Manila in the 2nd half of the 16th century. It was a shock for the Spaniards to do battle with Muslim warriors, again, after the years of ‘Reconquista’ that lasted until 1492 and after crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.

From then on, the followers of the religion of Islam bore the name Moros by ‘ascription’ first by the Spaniards and then by the Americans and the subsequent Philippine Republic. The word Moro carried a pejorative meaning of being ‘uncivilized’, ‘uneducated’, ‘unlettered’, etc. It was so bad that in the 1950’s, a Congressional Resolution sponsored by the Muslim Representatives led by Reps. Alonto and Lucman reminding all sundry including public and private institutions and communication facilities that the followers of Islam in the Philippines must be called Muslims and NOT Moros. Our then Congressman and former Senator Salipada Pendatum introduced for the first time the so-called ‘hyphenated’ identity, Muslim-Filipinos.

Congressman Pendatum was the product of a period when people have to grapple with multiple identities. The other version that made popular in the 70’s was Cesar Adib Majul’s masterpiece, The Filipino Muslims. Thus before the Martial Law, the followers of Islam in the Southern Philippines were either called Muslims by Congressional Resolution that saw this label as most appropriate or Muslim-Filipinos (or Filipino Muslims). Other people in ‘darkness’ and in private conversation continued to refer to them as Moros in a pejorative sense.

The first POSITIVE public use of the word MORO was the publication of the political ‘phamplet’ by Dr. Asani in early 70’s – Moros and not Filipinos! The use was not only by ‘self-ascription’ but also by way of ‘purifying’ the word that would come to mean as ‘unconquered’,‘un-colonized’ and a nation in struggle.

The phenomenon of ‘self-ascription’ was akin to the appropriation of the word – Filipinos – by the revolutionaries in 1896 under the leadership of Andres Bonifacio. Prior to this, the word Filipinos referred to the Spaniards born in the Archipelago to differentiate them from the Spaniards born in the Iberian Peninsula. In a similar vein, it was a new identity to refer to a nation in struggle for their independence and unbowed by powers of the Colonizers.

In a similar way, the word MORO (by self-ascription) evolved from the struggle of peoples to regain their dignity and homeland. It was NO accident that when these idealistic young men and women were looking for a name to spark the rebellion in the Southern Philippines, they chose Moro National Liberation Front. This was in contrast to the Muslim Independence Movement started by Datu Udtog Matalam.

The Bangsamoro identity is a sequel to this historical struggle of a people. It has NO connect to the Moro ascription by the colonizers. The meaning and shape of the new identity continues to evolve as peoples take stock of the struggles in the Southern Philippines not only for identity but also for a nation and a homeland.

Since it is a young political construct, the identity continues to grow and is enriched by people's actual participation in the struggles. While the MNLF and the MILF have the major roles in shaping the said identity, the peoples in struggle shape its meaning. Ultimately, what truly matters is not the identity written in paper or stone but the identity written in the hearts of men and women in struggle as they retrieve not only their dignity but also their souls.

2 suspected NPA rebels killed in Sorsogon

From the Sun Star-Davao (Jan 25): 2 suspected NPA rebels killed in Sorsogon

Two suspected communist rebels were killed in another clash this week with government troops in Sorsogon province, the Philippine Army (PA) said. The soldiers from the 31st Infantry Battalion clashed with at least seven members of the Special Partisan Unit of the New People's Army in Barangay Carriedo in Gubat town around 9:05 a.m. on Thursday.

The firefight, which lasted for about 10 minutes, killed two NPA rebels, one of whom was identified as Ritchie Espineda, military said. The clash also injured two soldiers who were immediately transferred to a local hospital.

On Wednesday, three suspected NPA rebels were also killed in a clash with military troops in Zamboanga del Sur, wherein eight soldiers were also hurt.

On Tuesday, an armed encounter transpired between NPA rebels and military elements in Barangay Cabilao, Makilala, North Cotabato, where 86 families were evacuated due to the clash.

Last week, former Army chief Lieutenant General Emmanuel Bautista formally assumed as the new head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and urged the NPA rebels and the Communist Party of the Philippines to abandon their armed struggle.

No annex signed but GPH, MILF sign TOR on Third Party Monitoring Team

From MindaNews (Jan 26): No annex signed but GPH, MILF sign TOR on Third Party Monitoring Team

The government (GPH) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels ended their five-day peace talks in Kuala Lumpur at 5:25 p.m. Friday, without completing any of the four annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

The panels, however, issued a Joint Statement claiming the talks “successfully ended” with both parties “achieving a milestone” with the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), the body that will “review, assess, evaluate and monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) and its Annexes.”

The panels will identify the members of the TPMT “within one month,” the Joint Statement said. Under Sec. 11 of the FAB’s Chapter 7 (Transition and Implementation), the TPMT is to be composed of “international bodies, as well as domestic groups to monitor the implementation of all agreements.”

Sec. 12 provides that at the end of the transition period, the GPH and MILF peace panels, the Malaysian Facilitator and the TPMT “shall convene a meeting to review, assess or evaluate the implementation of all agreements and the progress of the transition” and an ‘exit document’ officially terminating the peace negotiations “ may be crafted and signed by both Parties if and only when all agreements have been fully implemented.”

Signed on October 15 last year, the FAB provides for the creation of the Bangsamoro, a new autonomous political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by June 30, 2016.

In their Joint Statement Friday, the panels announced the extension of the tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team (IMT) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG) for another year “in recognition of their important roles in the peace process, without prejudice to adjustments that may be needed pursuant to developments in the crafting of the Annexes to the FAB.”

Progress on the negotiations on the Annexes was mentioned in the Joint Statement only on the third of the six-paragraph statement. It said the panels “expressed satisfaction on the continuing progress of the discussions on the Annexes to the FAB,” agreed to meet again in February and are “confident that the Annexes will be completed and signed at the soonest possible time.”

Draft only

“We were able to resolve various issues across the four annexes,” GPH peace panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer told MindaNews in a text message from KL Friday night. “The Technical Working Group was able to complete a draft annex on Transitional Arrangements and Modalities which was received by the Panels for final review of our respective principals. At the same time, we have extended the mandates of the IMT and the AHJAG,” she said.

The IMT is mandated to monitor the ceasefire agreements between the GPH and MILF “in order to create a conducive environment for peace negotiations and development initiatives in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.” The IMT was first deployed in 2004, its mandate renewed annually.

The AHJAG on the other hand is a joint team against criminal elements operating in “MILF areas/communities, in order to pursue and apprehend such criminal elements.” The group operates in tandem with their respective Coordinating Comitteees on the Cessation of Hostilities.”


“Hindi talaga natapos (We weren’t able to finish) but almost settled everything. Due diligence na lang ang kailangan” (Due diligence is all we need), MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal told MindaNews in a text message Friday evening.

In his opening statement on Monday, Iqbal was certain they would not be able to finish the four annexes to the FAB this week but hoped they could “settle at least two of the Annexes.” “The challenge before us now is to come up with results. If we cannot finish all the Annexes, at least we can settle at least two of the Annexes. I am looking at Power-sharing and Modalities and Arrangement Annexes as possible areas of breakthrough,” Iqbal said.

In her opening statement on Monday, Ferrer said it is expected that “we will get worked up in the minutest details” and that “we will once again tangle with words and ruffle emotions.” But she stressed the goals remain the same: “to establish a Bangsamoro government that will enjoy the blessings of meaningful political and fiscal autonomy; to get to this end through a peaceful transition that will enable the MILF to test and prove its brand of leadership, jumpstart the socio-economic development in the communities, and forever still the guns in the erstwhile conflict-affected region; and to achieve healing, reconstruction and the human security of the peoples, groups and sectors in the region.”

President Aquino on December 18 signed Executive Order 120 creating the Transition Commission (TransCom) that would prepare the groundwork for the setting up of the Bangsamoro. The House of Representatives and Senate passed resolutions in support of the EO, the Christmas break. The TransCom’s main task is to draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. The President has yet to name the 15-member TransCom, eight of whom would be from the MILF and seven from the GPH.

Photo Essay: Green groups and sectoral organizations denounce the US military forces for trespassing on Philippine waters ....

Posted to the pro-CPP Arkibong Bayan (People's Archive) (Jan 22): Excerpt from Photo Essay: Green groups and sectoral organizations denounce the US military forces for trespassing on Philippine waters and destroying environmentally-vulnerable areas in Tubbataha Reef National Park

“Strike 2″ : US Navy should be held liable for Tubbataha incidentNews release
January 18, 2013

Multisectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said that the incident at the Tubbataha Reefs involving yet another US warship raises more questions against the unhampered entry and permanent presence of American forces in the country under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Bayan made the statement after the USS Guardian, a 68-meter minesweeper of the US Navy, ran aground the Tubbataha Reefs, a natural park and a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea.

“The violations being committed by American warships in the country through the VFA are already disturbing and our officials should have the political will to decisively make them accountable. Just a couple of months ago, they (US Navy) were involved in the dumping of toxic wastes in Subic Bay. If the US troops and the VFA were left off the hook in that incident by local authorities and all the blame were pinned on the private contractor Glenn Defense Marine, the Tubbataha case points directly to the US Navy. They have no more excuses,” said Renato Reyes, Bayan’s secretary-general.

Bayan questioned what was the USS Guardian doing in the Tubbataha area and the true nature of its supposed visit. “What was its mission in Palawan? Is the US operating a base there? What was the approved joint activity that allowed the US to move around our waters? More importantly, what is the Philippine government going to do regarding this incident?” Reyes asked. The Bayan leader added that Filipino and American officials are making it appear that the US warships are merely conducting routine port calls although apparently they’re engaged in other activities.

The US Navy must also be held liable for the damage to the coral reefs brought about by its unauthorized entry, Bayan added. “This is already strike 2 for US troops. This kind of activity by US forces, being able to roam freely in our waters without respect for domestic laws, should end. The disrespect by the US towards the Tubbataha authorities should be looked into as well,” said Reyes.
The group stressed that the abuses being committed by US forces in the country will continue because of the VFA and the environment of impunity it created for the supposedly visiting American troops. “The violations against our sovereignty, the crimes against our people and the destruction of our natural resources by US forces will go on as long as the national government ignores persistent calls to abrogate the VFA. The abolition of this grossly one-sided, oppressive and destructive agreement is long overdue,” said Reyes. ###


Bayan calls for halt to US port calls, exercises amid Tubbataha incident

Posted on 20 January 2013 by admin
News Release
January 20, 2013

The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan called for a halt to any further port calls and military exercises by United States forces after a US Navy vessel ran aground in Tubbataha reef in the Philippines. Bayan also called on the PH government to assert its sovereignty and ascertain the real status of the ship. The group said it is the sovereign right of the Philippines to inspect the ship.

The Philippines has been playing host to US troops and ships who are using their former bases for refuelling and repairs and who take advantage of the Philippines for rest and recreation. The Philippines also hosts some 600 Special Forces in Mindanao who have been deployed there since 2002.
“Surely there is a problem with the Visiting Forces Agreement and the port calls and exercises undertaken by US forces in our country. The frequency of port calls supposedly allowed under the VFA transforms the country into a virtual military base. They come here anytime, roam our waters freely, and engage in unspecified activities,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.

“And when incidents happen, like the dumping of toxic wastes or the destruction of our coral reef, the US seems to buck any kind of accountability and even disrespect our local authorities. So why should we allow US ships to continue making port calls? Why allow the VFA to continue,” Reyes added.
Bayan said provisions in the VFA make it difficult to hold US troops accountable.

Article VI of the RP-US VFA dealing with claims says that “For claims against the United States, other than contractual claims and those to which paragraph 1 applies, the United States Government, in accordance with United States law regarding foreign claims, will pay just and reasonable compensation in settlement of meritorious claims for damage, loss, personal injury or death, caused by acts or omissions of United States personnel, or otherwise incident

to the non-combat activities of the United States forces,”

Bayan asked what would constitute “just and reasonable compensation” and “meritorious claims” as far as the US is concerned. “Will the US invoke this provision of the VFA to downplay its liability or delay and minimize compensation?” Reyes asked.

“It is patently embarrassing that the PH government does not even want, at this point, to raise the issue of liability of US troops in the destruction of our coral reef. It smacks of puppetry and subservience. Whatever happened to asserting sovereignty?” Reyes said.

Bayan found it ironic that Aquino would be speaking before world leaders at

the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland next week, when he can’t even assert the national sove


21 January 2013
For Reference: REP. LUZVIMINDA C. ILAGAN 0920-9213221
Jang Monte (Public Information Officer) 0917-4049119


Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Luz Ilagan laments Malacanang’s perceptible lack of outrage as well as its apparent disinterest in holding the US government accountable for the damage that the USS Guardian has inflicted on Tubbataha reef, a declared UNESCO world heritage site.

“It will take thousands of years before reefs can recover from the least amount of damage. Whatever damage the USS Guardian has caused to the reef cannot be reduced to quantifiable data nor can it be described as minimal, yet President Aquino is taking all these in stride. This display of docility is shameful as it is contemptible.” said Ilagan.

The Gabriela solon also joined militant groups and progressive legislators in pushing anew for the immediate termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

“The Visiting Forces Agreement has been repeatedly used by the US government as a license to trespass on and violate our patrimony, natural resources and legal processes. Paulit-ulit na binabastos ng Estados Unidos ang bansa natin at lahat ito ay nakangiting tinatanggap ng Pangulong Aquino!”

Ilagan said the Aquino government has allowed the US to get away with nary a protest despite the toxic waste dumping at Subic Bay and the discovery of a US spy drone in Masbate.

“President Aquino and his government will go down in history among the best US apologist the Philippines ever had.”#


Press Statement
21 January 2013

Church People Decry Foul Over US Troops Destruction Of Tubbataha Reef
The Promotion of Church People’s Response strongly condemns the US Troops’ destruction of Tubbataha Reef and the infringement of our national sovereignty as US Navy ship ran aground Philippine waters. A US marine sweeper is stuck in Tubbataha Reefs national park since January 17 immediately damaging marine-resource rich within ten meters of the fragile reefs.

The environmental repercussion does not only include the decades of repair on the damaged reef but also destroys the marine bio-diversity richness in the area posing even greater urgent alarm if possible oil leaking is determined. Pending the official report on the off-course navigation of the US navy ship, it has become apparent that the US military has undermined our national sovereignty, encroached protected areas and cause environmental havoc to our natural resources and contravened our constitution and international laws and regulations under the veil of VFA.

The Tubbataha mishap is not an isolated case as previous reports already unmasked this lopsided agreement. It was only in October 2012 when Glenn Marine Defense Asia Philippines, a US navy contractor, was caught allegedly dumping off thousands of liters of untreated toxic and hazardous wastes in Subic Bay. The joint maritime exercise of GPH and US in Basilan shores last April 2012 has rammed a local fishing boat causing the death of a father and serious injury to the son. Or the Subic rape case in 2009 and the various (un)reported cases of physical abuse and manhandling of taxi drivers, food servers and other ordinary workers by US military. Furthermore, the presence of American troops in our land unnecessarily invites animosity from contending countries of the US.

Quite (un)expectedly, we are witness to the sleek underhand maneuvering, legal impediments and diplomatic pressures at the expense of our national sovereignty, freedom and security.

It is again timely to trumpet the call for the abrogation of the VFA. We long for the political will of the Aquino government to foremost protect the welfare of the Filipino people, defend our dignity as a nation and preserve the national patrimony.##


Mr. Nardy Sabino
PCPR General Secretary

News Release
Reference: Einstein Recedes, SCMP spokesperson (0915-6469177)

Church youth charge US Embassy for Tubbataha Reef havoc
Church youth led by the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) mobilized afternoon today at the US Embassy for the illegal entry of a US Navy minesweeper into the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park that devastated its corals and marine wildlife

The warship USS Guardian is stuck for the second day at the protected marine area, with two-thirds of the 68-meter ship already submerged in its waters and causing further damage.

The Tubbataha Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and entry without permit is a violation of Republic Act No. 10067, or the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Act of 2009.

“We are at rage with how the US is handling this particular issue. It just shows their insolence to our national sovereignty and their inconsiderate regard to our natural resources. Not only does this raise the issue of environmental destruction, but also the reason behind the entry and presence of American forces in our country because of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” said Einstien Recedes, spokesperson of SCMP.

He also recounted the alleged dumping of untreated waste collected by a US Navy-contracted vessel on Subic Bay November last year, because the VFA grants immunity to US military personnel deployed in the Philippines.

“These incidents prove that US warships are not only conducting routine port calls in our country. Why are they here in the first place? Their presence should not be welcomed if they just cause trouble more than anything, “ he added.

The youth also slammed the Aquino government for its silence and inaction on the incident.

“The Aquino government should be held liable, because it would not have happened in the first place if it abrogated the VFA. The Philippines is at the losing end of the agreement, with the US continuing to disregard our laws, committing crimes against our people and exploiting our natural resources,” Recedes said. ###

Student Christian Movement of the Philippines
3/F NCCP Bldg. 879 EDSA Quezon City 1100
Hotlines: 09289526973, 09187310322, 09174881510

CPP: CPP denounces US big capitalist interventionism in push for "chacha"

From the CPP Website (Jan 25): CPP denounces US big capitalist interventionism in push for "chacha"

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) denounced the interventionism of US big capitalists in pushing for amendments to the 1987 Philippine constitution that would remove provisions defining limits to foreign ownership of Philippine enterprises.

The proposal to amend the 1987 constitution was expressed by American big businessmen in a meeting yesterday with Aquino in MalacaƱang. The American capitalists recently attended a forum and tour of the Philippines initiated by the US-Philippines Society co-sponsored by the Aquino government and the US embassy to attract US capitalists to invest in the Philippines.

Among those who attended the forum were executives of Citigroup, Chevron, Coca Cola, General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, Procter & Gamble, Peregrine Development International, CV Starr & Co., the US Education Finance Group, McLarty & Associates, Federal Express and Spence & Co.
The CPP castigated the Aquino regime for allowing the US big capitalists to outrightly interfere in the internal political affairs of the country. “This is not the first time that the Aquino regime has kept silent as the US imperialists stepped beyond the boundaries of diplomatic relations and directly interfered in the internal socio-political affairs of the country by pushing for charter change,” points out the CPP.

In 2011, US Ambassador Harry Thomas similarly called for amendments to the Philippine 1987 constitution. The US big business group echoed the view expressed by Thomas that lifting the restrictions against foreign ownership should be a requirement for the Philippines to join the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” group. Aquino has long expressed interest to join the TPP but has yet to be invited by the group.

“The US imperialists have long been pushing for charter change in order to completely remove the provisions that restrict foreign ownership to 40%,” said the CPP. “American big capitalists are confronted with a prolonged depression of the global capitalist system and wish to further entrench themselves in the Philippines and be given unrestricted freedom to invest, extract mineral and other natural resources, exploit cheap Filipino labor and earn and repatriate their superprofits.”

The CPP said that even with the restrictions against majority foreign ownership of Philippine enterprises, American and other foreign big capitalists have long been allowed vast freedoms to operate fully-owned corporations, or use dummies, under various investment and economic laws over the past three decades, including the Mining Act of 1995, the Omnibus Investments Act and many others.

“The US imperialists also want to remove provisions in the 1987 constitution restricting the entry and stockpiling of nuclear weapons as well as those prohibiting foreign military bases and facilities, in order to further use the Philippines as its military outpost and advanced detachment in the Asia-Pacific region,” added the CPP.

MV-22B Ospreys Used In Joint US-PH Air Force Training

From the Manila Bulletin (Jan 25): MV-22B Ospreys Used In Joint US-PH Air Force Training

Marines load an MV-22 Osprey prior to conducting low-altitude flight training Jan. 23 on Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Three Ospreys conducted the training, marking the Marine Corps'... (US Marines Photo by 1st Lt. Jeanscott Dodd)

Marines load an MV-22 Osprey prior to conducting low-altitude flight training Jan. 23 on Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Three Ospreys conducted the training, marking the Marine Corps'... (US Marines Photo by 1st Lt. Jeanscott Dodd)

Amid issues brought about by the grounding of the “USS Guardian” on the Tubbataha Reef, US military forces together with Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel conducted a three-day bilateral exercise in Palawan with three MV-22 Bravo Ospreys, the world’s first tilt rotor aircraft.

Maj. Oliver Banaria, commander of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) 6th Civil Relations Group (CRS) based in Palawan, said it was the first time that the US Armed Forces landed their MV-22B Ospreys in the country.

A cross between a helicopter and a fixed wing airplane, the Osprey is a hybrid aircraft has the capability to “take off vertically like a helicopter and then reconfigure to fly like a normal aircraft.”
The US military also described it as “with a speed and range of a turboprop, the maneuverability of a helicopter and the ability to carry 24 Marine combat troops twice as fast and five times farther than previous helicopters.”

On Wednesday, January 22, three MV-22B Osprey aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, out of Okinawa, Japan, arrived at Antonio Bautista Air Base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan for the three-day bilateral training.

Banaria said the low-altitude flight training was staged on routes approved by the Philippines government and that have been used previously in flight training exercises. The Wescom official added the exercise was scheduled long before the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef.

During the training, PAF personnel rode along with the U.S. Marine contingent and provided ground control and other interoperability training. Maj. Joshua T. Fraser, operations officer for VMM-265, said flights they conducted were “important for our pilots and crews to maintain proficiency.”

For his part, Tech. Sgt. Edwin Agang, operations chief for the PAF’s 570th Composite Tactical Wing, said: “The Marines are flying by the same rules and regulations the Philippine Air Force abides by and utilizing similar routes to ones flown by our aircraft.”

The training has also allowed the U.S. Marines and PAF personnel to share expertise on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations during classes and discussions on the ground. The US Marines also gave a presentation on the capabilities of the MV-22 Osprey to the PAF. During the training, both countries’ service members also participate in a cargo loading exercise on the aircraft. “We appreciate the Marines coming here to train with us and are glad to host and support them at our base” said Agang.

Abu kidnapper nabbed in Basilan

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 26): Abu kidnapper nabbed in Basilan

Another suspected member of the extremist Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) charged with five counts of kidnapping with serious illegal detention and with a monetary reward of P600,000 for his arrest was caught by combined police and military operatives in Barangay Kumalarang, Isabela City, Basilan. The suspect, Muin Hamja, alias Abu Kudri, Sudjarapula and Usman, is a resident of Barangay Kumalarang, records showed.

The arresting police and military forces were armed with a warrant of arrest issued by the Isabela City Regional Trial Court. Hamja has been linked to several incidents of kidnapping that took place in Basilan. He is said to be the brother of one Muhamadiya Hamja who was arrested in 2001 and said to be a member of the ASG.  Hamja was taken to the military camp in Basilan but was later moved to the Zamboanga City Philippine National Police for tactical interrogation.

AFP to file administrative charges vs troops in Atimonan shootout

From the Daily Tribune (Jan 26): AFP to file administrative charges vs troops in Atimonan shootout

The military yesterday admitted the likelihood of administrative charges, including possible court martial proceedings, against the soldiers involved in the alleged Quezon province shootout that led to the killing of 13 men, including three policemen and two Philippine Air Force (PAF) personnel.

Southern Luzon Command (Solcom) spokesman Col. Generoso Bolina said the military was just awaiting the results of the probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) before deciding on the fate of the 15 members of the 1st Special Forces Battalion (SFB).

“The result of the investigation (by the NBI) will be the basis (for) whatever administrative charges we could file,” Bolina said. “The possibility of filing administrative charges is really big,” he admitted. Bolina said the result of the NBI probe would also be used in determining the punishment to be imposed on the soldiers through court martial.

At present, he said, all the soldiers involved in the alleged shootout at a police checkpoint on Maharlika Highway in Atimonan, Quezon were still under restriction pending the NBI investigation. “If there was really no shootout, (the soldiers) will really have to face administrative cases,” said Bolina.

Earlier, Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima ordered the filing of administrative charges against the 22 policemen involved in the incident. Thirteen men, including three policemen and two PAF personnel, were killed in the alleged shootout. On the other hand, Supt. Hansel Marantan, the supposed leader of the lawmen manning the checkpoint, was wounded.

No less than President Aquino has instructed the NBI to dig deeper into the incident after noting “not normative” instances. There were reports that the incident was actually a turf war between two operators of the illegal numbers game jueteng in Laguna and Quezon provinces. One of the 13 killed, Vic Siman, was tagged as a jueteng operator in some parts of Southern Tagalog.

US envoy vows full aid in ship lift effort

From the Manila Standard Today (Jan 26): US envoy vows full aid in ship lift effort

US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr. said Friday his government will be working closely with the Philippines in assessing the damage to the Tubbataha Reef caused by the grounding of the minesweeper USS Guardian.

“My military colleagues and I are totally committed to working jointly with our Philippine counterparts to remove the ship as expeditiously as possible, making every possible effort to avoid or minimize further damage,” Thomas said in a statement more than a week after the ship’s grounding on Jan. 17. “I am deeply grateful to the Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine Navy for their close cooperation with us. We will continue our combined efforts to resolve this matter.”

The Japan-based ship crashed into the reef before dawn while on its way to Indonesia after making a rest and refueling stop on Subic Bay, a former American naval base west of Manila. The Coast Guard has said that the minesweeper damaged 1,000 square meters of coral.

Thomas made his statement even as the Coast Guard said it was speeding up the removal of 15,000 liters of automotive diesel oil from the USS Guardian, and that it would have been completed Friday night.

“We are now 70 percent complete and we’re expecting to finish this today, Friday, said Lt. Commander Armand Balilo, the Coast Guard’s chief information officer.

Rear Admiral Rodolfo Isorena, Coast Guard commandant, said there was no oil leak despite the damage to the ship’s wooden hull and propeller.

The USNS Salvor, a US salvage ship, arrived at the site at 7 a.m. on Friday to help the Coast Guard and the US Navy in the salvage operation.

The Tubbataha Task Force officials and the US Navy have decided to use a ship crane from Singapore to lift the 1,300-ton minesweeper, and it’s expected to arrive next week.

US officials have contracted Singapore-based Smit Towing Co. to lift the 68-meter-long ship, put it on a salvage barge and bring it to a shipyard.

The Transport Department, meanwhile, said Friday the government and the US Navy were finalizing the vertical removal of the ship. Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya said part of the salvage plan was to use a crane with a high lifting capacity to remove the ship instead of dragging it to avoid more damage to the reef.

Thomas on Friday also expressed his “profound regret” over the incident and assured that there will be no “recurrence” of the grounding. “On behalf of the United States government, I wish to convey to the Philippine government and people my profound regret over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef,” Thomas said. “This was an unfortunate accident, and I recognize the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity.”

US Task group Unit Guardian spokesman Lt. commander James Stockman said that it was hard to speculate on how much the US would have to pay for the damage caused by the ship since an investigation was still ongoing. “Before determining what claims may apply, it is necessary for the Navy to complete a thorough investigation of the grounding,” Stockman said. “The US Navy understands and respects the concerns of the Republic of the Philippines with regard to environmental stewardship and the need to assess the damage caused by the grounding. “We do not want to speculate about liability issues, but the US Navy will coordinate with the Republic of the Philippines in assessing reef damage.”

Stockman said they had already deployed a marine biologist or coral reef expert to survey the grounding and evaluate the health of the surrounding reef. He said the US Navy was doing everything to minimize environmental damage while recovering the ship. “When the Guardian is safely recovered, the US government will continue to work with the Republic of Philippines government to assess the extent of the damage to the reef and the surrounding marine environment caused by the grounding,” Stockman said.

USS Guardian damage to Tubbataha worst in TMO history

From GMA News (Jan 25): USS Guardian damage to Tubbataha worst in TMO history

The USS Guardian dealt the worst damage to Tubbataha Reef ever recorded in the history of the Tubbataha Management Office (TMO), according to park manager Angelique Songco.

In an interview with GMA News Online, Songco pointed out that damage incidents are few and far between: records show that there have been just nine incidents in all the 12 years of monitoring since the park management was founded in 2001.

"But of all the damage that's happened (combined), wala pa yan sa kalahati ng nagawa ng Guardian," Songco said.

"(It's the) worst ever for us since 12 years ago, when the TMO was founded," she added in a separate text message to GMA News Online.

Initial conservative estimates had pegged the Guardian's damage to at least 1,000 square meters.

Official maps and data provided by the Tubbataha Task Force indicate that the Guardian is stranded on the northwestern part of Tubbataha's South Atoll....

According to an updated World Wildlife Fund (WWF) map, this particular area of the atoll consists of "rubble and coral" (indicated in gray).

A source at the Philippine Coast Guard, who declined to be named, explained that this area contains mostly rocks and coral that died from natural causes —suggesting that the damage might not be as extensive as earlier thought.

In contrast, an earlier report from the WWF indicated that the site of the grounding was further east, at a portion of the atoll that is more densely populated with living coral (indicated by orange in the WWF map).

Nevertheless, Songco said that the location of the impact does not lessen the gravity of the situation.

"It's like the difference between a forest and a desert: it doesn't mean one is less (ecologically) important than the other," she said.

"It's not less valuable, it's just different. It's a different (kind of) colony (of marine wildlife)," she stressed.

Early Friday morning, the Task Force conducted a reconnaissance flyover above the site....
 The video, taken by PCG spokesperson Cmdr. Armand Balilo onboard a US Navy-supplied Orion surveillance plane, shows the Guardian as it is being drained of fuel by the USS Apollo, a US Navy recovery ship.

He said that nobody is discounting the USS Guardian's effect on the reef.

Balilo pointed out that a "marine environment specialist" from the US Navy arrived Friday morning to prepare to assess the full extent of the damage wrought by the Guardian. But he reiterated that the assessment can only be undertaken after the ship is removed at the end of February, as scheduled.

"(The full assessment) will happen matapos maalis ang barko," he said.

He also allayed fears that the USS Guardian, made lighter due to the removal of its fuel stores, poses any further threat to the reef.

"The naval architects have computed the weight, and alam nila yan," he said.

Meanwhile, Balilo said that the crucial draining of fuel from the USS Guardian is well underway and that improved weather conditions mean that the operation may be finished earlier than expected.

"(The operation) is already 70 percent complete. By this day, kumpleto na sya," he said.

Preps underway for peace caravan in central Mindanao

From ABS-CBN (Jan 25): Preps underway for peace caravan in central Mindanao

The Army’s 6th Infantry Division, which covers the Central Mindanao area, is now busy in the preparation for the “fluvial caravan for peace” scheduled on Tuesday, January 29.

In a press briefing Friday, Public Affairs Office Chief Col. Dickson Hermoso said 200 floats or “bangkas” will participate and more than 2,000 individuals are expected to join the fluvial parade. The floats will be decorated based on the concept and theme, "Pagkakaisa tungo sa mapayapa at maunlad na Bangsamoro". Col. Hermoso said this is an activity that will bring together all sectors towards achieving lasting peace in Mindanao.
The fluvial caravan will start at 7 a.m. from the Lower Taviran of Mother Kabuntalan in Maguindanao and will traverse the river going to Kalangan 3 in Cotabato City, where a program will be held to also kick-off the “Sports for Peace”.

The sportsfest will be participated in by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the Philippine National Police (PNP), other security groups, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
President Benigno Aquino III is the guest of honor in the activity.

The fluvial caravan for peace is through the cooperation of the AFP, PNP, MILF, ARMM government, local government units, Department of Education, the religious sector and the CSOs.
The activity is in support of the GPH-MILF peace talks following the breakthrough of the framework agreement last October 2012.

US Navy ship too damaged to tow off Tubbataha

From ABS-CBN (Jan 25): US Navy ship too damaged to tow off Tubbataha

  The USS Guardian (MCM 5) is seen in this photo taken January 17, 2013 by the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command after the US Navy minesweeper ran aground at Tubbataha Reef. -- Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command

A US Navy minesweeper that ran aground at Tubbataha Reef last week is "too damaged" to just tow away from the world heritage site, a US military official said. Rear Adm. Tom Carney, the on-scene commander of the salvage operation at the reef, said the USS Guardian's hull has been punctured and several areas of the ship are now flooded. "The option that we had hoped to tow the ship off the reef is not available,” Carney said. “The ship is too badly damaged."

According to the US Navy's 7th Fleet, the USS Guardian, which has a primary mission to detect and counter mines, has a wooden hull covered in fiberglass similar to surfboards.  "The repeated pounding of heavy seas on the ship, which hampered recovery efforts in the days immediately following the grounding, has also resulted in the loss of much of the fiberglass coating on the port side," the US 7th Fleet Public Affairs said in a statement online. One US Navy photo of the ill-fated ship dated January 22 shows the reef seemingly supporting the vessel's entire weight.

To prevent potential environmental damage, a U.S. Navy-led salvage team on Friday completed removing all diesel fuel from the tanks of the minesweeper. No fuel has leaked since the grounding and approximately 15,000 gallons was safely transferred to the contracted Malaysian tug Vos Apollo during controlled defueling operations that occurred over the last 2 days, according to the US Navy. “One of our priorities was to get the fuel out of the ship in order to minimize environmental damage,” Carney said.

Carney, who spoke about the salvage operations during a joint press conference with Philippine Coast Guard Rear Adm. Rodolfo Isorena in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on Thursday, said the US Navy is working in close cooperation with the Philippine Coast Guard and Navy to develop a plan to safely remove the ship.

“The problem is very complex, and both Naval architects and salvage engineers are working together to develop plans,” Carney said. “The nature of the shipboard damage makes it a difficult operation, and the dynamic nature of the environment increases those challenges.”

Two heavy lift ship-borne cranes will support the salvage operations and are due to arrive at the scene around February 1.

Carney said his top priorities are to ensure no one is injured during salvage operations while carefully preventing more damage to the Tubbataha Reef. “I have been to the Philippines many times before and truly understand the reef is a national treasure and very important to the Philippine people,” he said.

Rights group hits abductions of Moros

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 25): Rights group hits abductions of Moros

A Moro human rights group on Friday decried what it described as fresh cases of enforced disappearance against Muslims suspected of being terrorists amid President Aquino’s signing into law of the Anti-Enforced, or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 last month. Abdulbaser Datumanong, coordinator of Kawagib (Rights) for the Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi areas, said this week alone, two apparent cases of enforced disappearance had taken place here and in Basilan.

Datumanong said Muin Hamja, 40, was forcibly taken by alleged policemen on suspicion of being an Abu Sayyaf member in Barangay Kumalarang in Isabela City in Basilan around 2:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Hamja’s abduction, he said, took place as the Muslim community and rights advocates were protesting Tuesday’s kidnapping by state agents of Sheikh Basher Mursalun in Barangay Labuan. Mursalun, he said, is an Islamic scholar, who is also the principal of a madrasah (Arabic school) in this city.

As in Mursalun’s case, Datumanong said Hamja’s family had searched for him the whole day on Thursday. Police and military authorities in Basilan told him they did not have him.


“However, a concerned citizen sent a text message to Kawagib with information that Hamja may be detained at the regional police headquarters in Zamboanga City,” Datumanong said. The Western Mindanao police office has not issued a statement on the claim.

Datumanong said it was not the first time that Hamja was victimized by enforced disappearance, which, under the law that President Aquino signed last month, is now a criminal offense. “The first was during the crackdown against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan in October 2001 but [he] was released later for lack of evidence,” he said.

Hamja’s brother, Muhammadiya, who was also allegedly forcibly abducted by state agents during the said crackdown, was released after four years. He was taken in again in 2008 and remained locked up at the Basilan provincial jail up to this day, Datumanong said.

“Kawagib is on alert for a possible start of another crackdown on Moro men on suspicion of being Abu Sayyaf members,” he added, citing the cases of Hamja and Mursalun.

Sheikh Jamal Munib, chair of the National Ulama Conference of the Philippines for Western Mindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, said Muslim religious leaders here could “vouch for his (Mursalun’s) integrity and we know he is completely innocent of any imputation of [involvement in] criminal or lawless activities.” “His contributions to the government in terms of civic and religious activities are even worthy of commendation,” Munib said.

Bautista to receive achievement award at PMA Alumni meet

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer (Jan 25): Bautista to receive achievement award at PMA Alumni meet

Newly designated Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Emmanuel Bautista and other ranking officials will be awarded the Highest Command and Achievement Award at the annual meeting of their alma mater on Saturday. The Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association will hold its annual general meeting at the AFP Theater, the military public affairs said in a statement.

Bautista, a member of PMA Class of 1981, earned the achievement for being named the 44th AFP Chief. He also received the same award last year as Commanding General of the Philippine Army.
Other recipients for the highest award are: Police Director General Alan Purisima of the Philippine National Police; VAdm Jose Luis Alano of the Philippine Navy; and VAdm Rodolfo Isorena of the Philippine Coast Guard. Also, Department of Transportation Secretary Emilio Abaya of PMA Class of 1988 will receive the Prominently Meritorious Achievement Award.
The meeting will “review, amend, and ratify PMAAAI’s bylaws, resolutions, and acts by the board and management,” with Retired LtGen Edgardo E Batenga of PMA Class of 1963 to head the meeting as Chairman and CEO.
Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas, an adopted member of the PMA Class of 1984, will be the guest of honor and speaker of general membership meeting. “Since PMA graduates make up most of the leaders of our security institutions, it is imperative for us to revisit our guiding principles and renew our commitment and roles as one of the pillars that strengthen our nation,” Bautista said in the statement.

Former rebel group surrenders more firearms

From the Philippine Star (Jan 25): Former rebel group surrenders more firearms

The now “decommissioned” paramilitary Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA), a splinter group from the New Peoples Army in 1986, surrendered at least 11 more assault rifles to the government.

The latest batch of surrendered firearms brought to 159 the total number of guns that the CPLA turned in since the start of the group's decommissioning last year when the CPLA forged a final pact with the government.

Army Col. Loreto Magundayao, spokesperson of the 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army based in Camp Melchor dela Cruz in Upi, Gamu, Isabela said seven M16 assault rifles, three M14 rifles and one Carbine were turned in by the CPLA in Kalinga to Col. Roger Salvador at the 501st Infantry Brigade headquarters in Tabuk City, Kalinga on Thursday.

The firearms, Magundayao said, will be stockpiled at the Camp Dela Cruz in Isabela.

The peace pact between the CPLA and the government was pursuant to Administrative Order Number 18 and Executive Order Number 49 of Pres. Benigno Aquino III, which laid down the government's peace initiatives with “threat groups”.

Other factions of the CPLA, however, particularly the group of former Bucloc town, Abra Mayor Mailed Molina opposed the peace pact, saying those factions that agreed with the government were "counterfeits".

On the other hand, factions led by Ifugao leader Arsenio Himiding, which forged a pact with the government are now receiving multi-million livelihood aids from the government through the Pamana peace program.

‘AFP to play the harder part in peace deal’

From the Philippine Star (Jan 25): ‘AFP to play the harder part in peace deal’

Supreme Court Associate Justice and former government chief negotiator Marvic Leonen on Friday cited the crucial role of the military in implementing the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Speaking to military officers at the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), Leonen said field commanders would play the “harder part” since they would deal with stakeholders. “The work that will be left behind by negotiators is not the work of OPAPP (Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process). I think we had the easy job. The work will be left to you and by you because you are going to take the reins of the leaderhip of the armed forces,” Leonen said. “It depends on your commandership to be able to maintain the peace and therefore usher in progress. The work is not really ours. The work is yours we have just done the easier part,” he added.

Leonen served as resource person for the NDCP’s lecture series entitled “National Security and the Challenge of Autonomy in a Constitutional Setting.” The event was attended by military officers taking up their masters in national security administration.

Leonen reminded the officers that political consultants may not be with them when they are required to make vital decisions. “All the conflicts have to be understood by those commanders. They are the ones who will see the real ramifications of all these conflicts layered one upon the other in order to resolve a particular problem,” Leonen said, referring to officers who lead Army battalions, brigades and divisions. “If they do not understand the roots and just apply force they may just exacerbate the problem,” he added.

Leonen also cited the importance of confidence building measures between the government and MILF forces. “When the annexes (of the Bangsamoro framework agreement) are completed what you will all have are simply pieces of paper and along the way there will be small violations of the agreements. But there will always be confidence-building measures,” he said.

Leonen said there have been instances when commanders who were supposed to be against each other worked together for common objective like ensuring the safety of civilians and providing livelihood to residents. “The government and the MILF should be able to meet the challenges. It’s a relationship they have to build,” Leonen told reporters. "Soldiers would also need to contribute to that effort because they are in contact with the communities. They will have to do whatever they can to preserve the peace,” he added.

The government and the MILF signed the historic framework agreement last Oct. 15 in MalacaƱang. The deal would form a new political entity that would replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which President Aquino had called “a failed experiment.”

The proposed entity will have to be formed through legislation. The government and the MILF are now completing the annexes of the agreement including power-sharing, transitional arrangement, normalization and wealth sharing.

Neutral team to supervise peace progress in Mindanao

From the Philippine Star (Jan 25): Neutral team to supervise peace progress in Mindanao

A neutral group whose job is to monitor the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB) by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) will be set up soon, according to a joint statement released by both parties today.

The statement said the 35th round of formal talks between the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and MILF ended Friday in Malaysia with the signing of the Terms of Reference for the Third Party Monitoring Team (TPMT), a group to review, assess, evaluate and monitor the peace progress in Mindanao. "The parties are expected to identify the members of the TPMT within one month," the joint statement said.

The GPH and the MILF also agreed to extend the respective tours of duty of the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group for another year "in recognition of their important roles in the peace process," it said.

"Both parties expressed satisfaction over the continuing progress of the discussions on the annexes to the FAB. They agreed to meet again in February and are confident that the annexes will be completed and signed at the soonest possible time," it added. FAB, which was signed by the GPH and the MILF last October, is a roadmap to reach the final political settlement on the four- decade-old armed conflict in southern Philippines.

Progressive Lawmakers, Lawyers Buck Filing of Trumped-up Charges vs Activists

From the Negros Daily Bulletin (Jan 25): Progressive Lawmakers, Lawyers Buck Filing of Trumped-up Charges vs Activists

Prosecutors, along with the military and the police who are part of the Interagency Legal Action Group (IALAG), filing trumped-up criminal charges against innocent activists and who are consciously aware that what is being done is only persecuting progressives as part of the counter-insurgency strategy of the state, will soon be dealt enough, Bayan Muna partylist Congressman Neri Colmenares, declared in an interview yesterday, with the NNF/NDB and Aksyon Radyo.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) will file administrative and criminal complaints with the Ombudsman against DOJ personnel, military officers and police officials who collaborate in the filing of trumped-up charges against innocent activists, sectoral organizations and partylist political activists with members and officials of human rights defenders’ groups as part of harassments and intimidations against them intended to discourage and dissuade them from pursuing their cause.

"The discussions to be carried out by progressive lawyer will be done in Manila," Colmenares said.
The filing of complaints against DOJ prosecutors involved along with the two branches of services in the country will be done as soon as warranted and possible. The usual strategy under IALAG is to implicate members of cause-oriented groups and sectoral organizations as well as partylist political parties, in cases including even murder arson and other criminal acts. These are usually done without bail which makes lives of those concerned, difficult in a move to force to concentrate on attending to their cases rather than being cause-oriented activists.

The tactic is to frame-up innocent but committed members of cause-oriented groups, in cases such as criminal acts because murder and other heinous crimes are without bail, those concerned will practically rot in jail and are immobilized.

There was a DOJ circular issued by a previous DOJ official which prohibits the placement of purely fictitious names, usually John or Jane Does and replace these with actual persons, primarily with names of target personalities.

In the province, this has been a practice resorted to by pinpointed DOJ personnel, members of the military and police with names of John Does and Jane Does placed instead of actual names and as soon as those involved in these decide, will add names of innocents, activists or civilians.
This, however, reflects negatively on the "matuwid na daan" clarion call of the administration of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III, as an oppressive regime.

NPA demanding as high as P5 million from E. Visayas local bets, says Army

From InterAksyon (Jan 25): NPA demanding as high as P5 million from E. Visayas local bets, says Army

The New People's Army (NPA) is demanding as high as P5 million from local candidates in Eastern Visayas as a "permit to campaign," according to the Philippine Army. Captain Gene Orense, spokesman of the Army's 8th Infantry Division, on Friday said they recovered documents detailing the supposed extortion activities of the Eastern Visayas Regional Party Committee NPA for the coming midterm elections.

Based on documents from the military, the NPA in Eastern Visayas is collecting so-called permit-to-campaign and permit-to-win fees ranging from as low as P50,000 for councilor bets and as high as P5 million for gubernatorial candidates.

Other fees are P75,000 for those running for vice mayor; P100,000 for candidates for mayor and board member; P500,000 for candidates for congressman and vice governor. Aside from these fees, the NPA is also reportedly demanding P180,000 or high-powered firearms from candidates.  Orense appealed to local candidates to refrain from giving money to the NPA.

“We are making an appeal to all local candidates for the May 2013 elections to refuse any offer of PTC/PTW fees by the NPAs, but instead let us work together through the spirit of ‘Bayanihan’ in ensuring a secured and fair election,” he said.

US apologizes for reef damage; mum on protest

From Rappler (Jan 25): US apologizes for reef damage; mum on protest

The United States government on Friday, January 25, formally apologized for its grounded ship that damaged the Tubbataha Reef, but failed to address the Filipino protest against the ship's allegedly “misbehaving” authorities. “On behalf of the United States government, I wish to convey to the Philippine government and people my profound regret over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef,” said US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas in a statement. “This was an unfortunate accident, and I recognize the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity,” Thomas said.

Tubbataha is no ordinary reef, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It is also the Philippines' first marine protected area, which not only attracts divers worldwide, but helps provide food to millions of Filipinos.

In his statement, Thomas said the US will help the Philippines remove the ship from the reef as quickly as possible, “making every possible effort to avoid or minimize further damage.” He also said their government will help address the environmental issues arising from the incident.

Protest vs 'demeanor'

Thomas, however, left out the protest of the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park against the demeanor of its ship's authorities. Last January 18, Tubbataha park authorities formally lodged a protest with the US government after the US Navy barred park rangers from approaching the stuck ship. “The ship's commander ordered a general alert and deployed personnel into battle position when our rangers tried to approach their ship to assess the situation, forcing them to back off,” said the park's chief supervisor, Angelique Songco, in an interview with reporters.

Songco said the “behavior of the ship's commanding authorities” prompted them to file the protest.
On Wednesday, January 23, the US Navy admitted it was “unfortunate” that they ignored and barred Tubbataha park rangers to board the USS Guardian when it crashed into the reef. A US Navy official said they will have the issue investigated. So far, authorities have failed to pull out the ship, which was even flooded.

A US Navy minesweeper, the USS Guardian ran aground near Tubbataha Reef last week. Under Philippine laws, the US Navy will face steep penalties, even as critics also urge the Philippine government to file an international protest.

US Navy rules out Tubbataha fuel leak

From Rapper (Jan 25): US Navy rules out Tubbataha fuel leak

The US 7th Fleet said the team safely transferred around 15,000 gallons of fuel to Vos Apollo, a contracted Malaysian tug, from the grounded minesweeper USS Guardian. No fuel has leaked since the USS Guardian ran aground in Tubbataha last January 17, the fleet added. “One of our priorities was to get the fuel out of the ship in order to minimize environmental damage,” said the operation's on-scene commander, Rear Admiral Tom Carney. The defueling took place over the last two days, the US Navy said.

The US Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Philippine Navy, however, have failed to safely remove the ship a week after the grounding. On Feb 1, two heavy lift ship-borne cranes will likely be brought to Tubbataha to help pull out the USS Guardian. “The problem is very complex, and both Naval architects and salvage engineers are working together to develop plans... The nature of the shipboard damage makes it a difficult operation, and the dynamic nature of the environment increases those challenges,” Carney said.

On Friday, the US government formally apologized to the Philippines for the incident. But it failed to address the protest of the Tubbataha park management against the US Navy's “misbehavior.”
Tubbataha is no ordinary reef, having become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. It is also the Philippines' first marine protected area, which not only attracts divers worldwide, but helps provide food to millions of Filipinos.

Gov't, MILF sign terms for Bangsamoro framework monitoring team

From Rappler (Jan 25): Gov't, MILF sign terms for Bangsamoro framework monitoring team

TALKS. Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer leads a caucus of the TWG on Normalization. Photo from the Google+ account of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process

TALKS. Government chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer leads a caucus of the TWG on Normalization. Photo from the Google+ account of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Proces

The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has signed on Friday, January 25, a document outlining the terms of reference for the Third-Party Monitoring Team that will 'review, assess, evaluate and monitor' the implementation of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro (FAB).

In a joint statement released after the 35th round of Formal Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, both sides said this marked another "milestone" in the peace talks.  The members of the team, which will be composed of international and domestic bodies, are expected to be named within a month.

Both parties also agreed to extend the mandates of the International Monitoring Team -- which oversees the ceasefire agreement between between both sides -- and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group -- a joint effort of the government and the MILF against lawless elements. 
However, their joint statement did not mention whether the latest round of talks produced a completed annex, as what both sides earlier expectedBoth sides are now in the process of settling the contentious details of the 4 annexes on power-sharing, wealth-sharing, normalization, and transitional arrangements and modalities that will complement the FAB.

Some of the remaining issues include:
  • whether the MILF should the Bangsamoro Transition Authority;
  • jurisdiction over natural resources;
  • transportation and communication;
  • the extent of territorial waters;
  • taxation;
  • timetables for decommissioning and demilitarization;
  • policing structures.
The next round of talks will be on February......,-milf-sign-terms-for-bangsamoro-monitoring-team

OPAPP conducts capacity-building seminar for info officers

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 25): OPAPP conducts capacity-building seminar for info officers

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) will conduct a capacity-building seminar for all government information officers in the country in an effort to disseminate the success stories of the Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan or Pamana (Peaceful and Progressive Communities).

According to OPAPP Sec. Teresita Q. Deles, the project entitled “Communicating Pamana results: Capacity-Building for Government Information Officers,” will serve as venue for information officers to learn how to communicate the progress and results of the program through the strategic use of different media communication channels or distribution networks.

Deles also said that as an output of the three-day training, the participants will craft a communication plan together with the trainers and undergo three-months of supervised implementation or coaching after.

The participant or trained staff, who will eventually serve as Pamana focal people in their respective communications unit, will also function as point persons who will handle communications requirements in relation to the peace process.

The Pamana is the national government’s program and framework for peace and development that aims to reduce poverty, improve governance, and empower communities in conflict-affected areas.

OPAPP, with funding assistance from the World Bank, has undertaken a project to build the capacity of information officers of Pamana agencies such as DAR, DILG, and DSWD, as well as government information agencies such as the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), and Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office (PCDSPO).

Pamana seeks to close the gap between what happens on the peace table and the existing realities on the ground as it focuses on ensuring that the communities dominated and/or afflicted by the said armed groups will feel the government’s presence in their lives through improved delivery of basic services and responsive, transparent, and accountable governance combined with economic development interventions truly reflective of the needs of the people.

It also serves as the umbrella program working in accordance with the specific context of a beneficiary area in an effort to streamline all development programs of the government.

In communities occupied by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the program will act as a confidence-building measure to the peace process with the Moro group, while in areas covered by closure pacts with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), among others, PAMANA functions as part of the implementation of the agreements.

On the other hand, in communities directly affected by armed conflict with the CPP-NPA-NDF (CNN), the program will serve as a parallel track demonstrating the government’s unilateral commitment to pursue peace and reform.

8th ID respects court’s decision to allow detainee’s medical treatment

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 25): 8th ID respects court’s decision to allow detainee’s medical treatment

The 8th Infantry (Stormtroopers) Division of the Philippine Army in a statement said it respects the decision of the court allowing accused Ericson Acosta to seek medical treatment at the National Kidney Institute in Quezon City. Acosta was detained at the Calbayog sub-provincial jail on charges of Illegal Possession of Explosives docketed as Criminal Case # 11-0501 filed at the Regional Trial Court, Branch 41 of Gandara, Samar.

Acosta was apprehended by military troops of 34th Infantry Battalion in the hinterlands of Brgy Bay-ang, San Jorge, Samar on February 13, 2011 for possession of a grenade.

“We respect, out of humanitarian consideration, the decision of the court for treatment of Acosta at the National Kidney Institute in Quezon City,” Cpt Gene Orense, 8th ID spokesman said.

Orense added that “whether he is an artist or not is of no concern to us because he was apprehended in the possession of a hand grenade and this is a criminal offense.”

US Ambassador expresses regret over Tubbataha Reef incident

From the Philippine Information Agency (Jan 25): US Ambassador expresses regret over Tubbataha Reef incident

United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr. assured that the U.S. government will work collaboratively with the Philippine government over the grounding of the USS Guardian on Tubbataha Reef last week.

In a statement, Thomas expressed his profound regret on the incident. “This was an unfortunate accident, and I recognize the legitimate concerns over the damage caused to a unique and precious wonder of nature, internationally recognized for its beauty and biological diversity,” Thomas said.

The US official also said that the US military are totally committed to working jointly with Philippine counterparts to remove the ship as expeditiously as possible, making every possible effort to avoid or minimize further damage. 
“We will work collaboratively with the Philippines to assess the damage and to take steps to address the environmental issues that have arisen from this incident,” he added.

Thomas also expressed his gratitude to the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine Navy for closely working with their American counterparts to resolve this matter.

He also expressed close coordination with the Philippine government to understand precisely what happened to ensure there will be no recurrence of the incident. (US Embassy, Manila-Public Affairs Section/RJB/JEG/PIA-NCR)

PN's Oto Melara 76mm gun among best worldwide

From the Philippine News Agency (Jan 25): PN's Oto Melara 76mm gun among best worldwide

The Oto Melara 76mm gun arming the three Jacinto-class patrol vessels and two Hamilton-class cutters in in the country's naval service is a very good weapon system and is currently being used by 53 naval forces worldwide.

Contrary to claims the gun is too light to deter would-be-intruders and poachers encroaching on Philippine waters, the 76mm cannon can fire 60 to 80 rounds a minute against naval, air, or even ground targets. The gun's high rate of fire makes it suitable for short-range anti-missile point defense, according to military sources. Specialized ammunition is available for armor piercing, incendiary and directed fragmentation effects and there is also a new guided round that is supposed to be able to destroy maneuvering anti-ship missiles.

Another advantage of this weapon, the sources add, is that it is light and compact enough to be installed in warship weighing 750 gross tons or even less, the configuration of most naval vessels in the PN. The 76 mm gun is a naval artillery piece built by the Italian defense conglomerate Otobreda. It is based on the Oto Melara 76mm/L62 Allargato, which was bigger and heavier.

The PN was introduced to the unique capabilities of the 76mm Oto Melara cannon when it acquired three Peacock class patrol ships (renamed the Jacinto class) from the United Kingdom in Aug. 1, 1997. Lt. Cmdr. Gregory Fabic, acting PN spokesperson, said that this gun is one of the best weapon platform in service with the country today.

The Oto Melara 76 mm gun arming the said ships is the primary weapon and is mounted in a turret forward of the bridge. It has a range of up to 10 nautical miles (20 kms). It is remotely controlled from within the combat information center by the gunnery officer and has no crew within the turret itself. The gun in Philippine service can fire 80 rounds in 60 seconds from its ready magazine, and the ships can carry a total of 450 rounds.

By Friday, all three vessels of the Jacinto class, BRP Emilio Jacinto (PS-35), BRP Apolinario Mabini (PS-36, and BRP Artemio Ricarte (PS-37) are still active and still in good condition. The three vessels have undergone weapons, electronics, propulsion and hull upgrades in PN service, increasing their capabilities as compared to the original Peacock class vessels, according to sources.